This year, 2019 will be a bit special year for us because the era name called “GENGO（元号）” in Japan will be change, and new era will start on May 1st. The other day, Japanese government officially announced on TV that the new era name was decided “REIWA（令和）” . Many people had paid attention to what kind of name it would be. The word source of new era name is taken from “Manyosyu”, famous and oldest Japanese collection of poetry compiled almost 1,200 years ago. The meaning of “REIWA” is that “Our culture will be emerged and nurtured by people’s considerateness and understanding each other” according to our prime minister’s explanation.
What is “GENGO” in the first place?
GENGO is a specific calendar era in Japan based on the period of reign of each emperor. Japan is the unique country to introduce this special calendar system in the world. We are usually using both Christian era and GENGO in daily basis, so it is very familiar with our daily life. The oldest one emerged in AD 645 and the system has been inherited until now. GENGO consists of 2 letters of Kanji (Chinese character) and all existing 247 GENGO derived from Chinese classic books, however, “REIWA” is the first example taken from Japanese classic book. Basically, new era started and the name of era changed when the emperor at that time passed away and was taken over the position to successor. The current era, “HEISEI（平成）” has started due to the death of SHOWA Emperor, Hirohito, 31 years ago. Considering that, it is a quite rare case historically that the current HEISEI Emperor, Akihito, will abdicate by reason of his old age while he is still alive. His son, the current prince, Naruhito will be a new emperor and the first general people’s visit to the Palace at the Imperial Palace will held on May 4th after the new emperor is enthroned.
Why the current emperor decided to abdicate this time?
Almost 2 years ago, the current emperor confessed his feeling that he was wondering it has been difficult for him to fulfill his responsibilities enough as emperor due to his aging and health problems. Actually, his official schedule is very tight and he has lots of things to do such as attending official events at the imperial palace and all over the country, inviting overseas VIPs like the presidents & kings at the palace, checking more than 1,000 official documents sent from the Cabinet a year, visiting the damaged areas attacked by natural disasters in order to console for victims. Even on New Year’s Day, he has to do lots of official events one after another and I heard it is already in the late afternoon that ha can have the first bite of the new year’s meal. In addition, he sometimes suffered from sickness and have to stayed at hospital for having operations in recent years, so that he has been anxious that he cannot take his responsibilities under this situation for Japanese citizens. In my point of view, it is quite natural that he came to think about his retirement because he is also just a human-being like us and his working schedule is too hard for over 80-years old man to keep up with. People’s acceptance of the emperor’s abdication was relatively positive because we understood his sincerity to his duty of emperor’s role as a symbol of Japan. Especially, there were plenty of natural disasters such as massive earthquakes and floods in these 30 years during HEISEI Era and the emperor and empress always visited the victims on the damaged areas in order to snuggle up to their sadness and cheer up soon after the disasters happened. It was always impressive for me that they always sat down directly on the floor of shelters and talked to people at the same eye height.
How people’s feeling change by starting new era?
In fact, changing era has a big meaning for Japanese citizens, but it depends on individuals how they consider new era starting. In my case, changing the era this time doesn’t have much impact on my own feeling. This is because we have already known when the current era end and new era start in advance and this is the second time to experience for me. When “SHOWA（昭和）”, the previous era ended, it made a great impact on my feeling because it was the first time and also happened all of sudden due to SHOWA Emperor’s death. I was 16 years old at that time and clearly remembered that I visited my friend’s house and watched official announcement of the name of new era by government on TV at the living room with her family. It was a very strange feeling and I was so sad because “SHOWA” era was special period of time for me. Compare with that time, I could accept the era changing very smoothly.
How was the current era for me and what I expect for the new era?
Look back on the current era, these 30 years has been a little tough time for us because our economy has been sluggish for a while after bubble economy busted and disappeared, the gap between wealthy and poverty has gradually expanded, and we had to face with natural disasters such as massive earthquakes and terrible floods from time to time. I also became 40’s with various experiences to be university students, to start working, to stay other countries for a few years, to career up, to suffer from sickness for a while, to get married…my circumstances has also changed a lot in these 30 years, so that HEISEI era was turbulent time for me, as well. As the new era starts, the second half of my life also starts. I would like to spend my time by doing what I really want to devote to do as much as possible, so am thinking over where I should put my center of curiosity from now on. I am very looking forward to thinking how I look back about the new era when it ends a few decades later if I am still alive. I hope the new era will be more peaceful and a society more tolerant to diversity.